What would Queen Victoria say?
A hundred years after the death of the British monarch whose name has become synonymous with "straitlaced," her great-great-great-grandson is marrying his live-in girlfriend.
On Saturday, Crown Prince Haakon, the heir to the Norwegian throne, will exchange vows with Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby in Oslo Cathedral.
The bride is a commoner who once worked as a waitress and was part of Oslo's wild "house party" circle. She also has a 4-year-old son from a previous relationship with a man convicted of drug charges.
Such a match would be unthinkable in Britain's House of Windsor. Just 20 years ago, when Lady Diana Spencer wed Prince Charles, it was considered imperative that the bride have no sexual past. Diana underwent a physical exam before the marriage, and her uncle even proclaimed her virginity to the press.
‘We Went Over the Limits’
Cohabitation is no big deal in Norway, where many young couples live together without marriage, and as many as half of the nation's firstborn children are born out of wedlock. But many members of the clergy were critical when Haakon — who as heir to the throne and future head of the state Lutheran Church — moved into an Oslo apartment with Tjessem Høiby and her son.
The bride confronted the public's preoccupation with her past Wednesday, breaking down in tears as she admitted to reporters that she had led a wild youth.
"My rebellion when I was young was stronger than for many people," Tjessem Høiby told a news conference, with Prince Haakon at her side.
"We went over the limits, and I'm very sorry about that," said Tjessem Høiby, who, like Haakon, is 28. "I cannot make these choices again, even though I wish I could."
It was "a costly experience for me and has taken me a long time to get over," she said.
The bride also condemned the use of drugs, although she did not say whether she had ever used them herself. She said she hoped now the press would let her put the past behind her.
Royal Family’s Popularity Dips
The Scandinavian royals have had the reputation of leading down-to-earth lives not so dissimilar from their subjects'. But when news of Haakon's romance with and subsequent engagement to Tjessem Høiby broke, opinion polls showed the royal family's popularity had plummeted.
Certainly not all the blame can be traced to Haakon's choice. His sister, Princess Märtha Louise, has raised eyebrows as well. She has been linked with author Ari Behn, who caused a storm when he was shown in a travel documentary, sniffing cocaine with prostitutes in Las Vegas. In 1994, the princess was named as co-respondent in a British divorce case.
And many Norwegians support Haakon's decision to marry a woman he obviously loves. Tjessem Høiby, a tall blonde with classic Scandinavian good looks, has been working to learn more about her royal role.
She has the support of Haakon's parents, King Harald V and Queen Sonja. Sonja herself was a commoner, and she and Harald waited nine years before his father, King Olav V, finally granted permission for them to marry.
A Royal Welcome
And it seems the other royal families of Europe are welcoming the new Norwegian crown princess into their ranks. The 400 invited wedding guests include the entire Swedish royal family as well as royals from Denmark, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Monaco.
The heir to the Dutch throne, Prince Willem-Alexander, will attend with his financée, Maxima Zorreguieta, another controversial bride — her father was a member of Argentina's former junta. The heir to the Spanish throne, Prince Felipe, planned to bring his girlfriend, Norwegian model Eva Sannum, according to the Aftenposten newspaper. Britain's Prince Charles was also to attend — without his longtime companion, Camilla Parker Bowles.
Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark will be Haakon's best man. The maid of honor is Linda Tånevik. Five other young relations of the bride and groom, ranging in age from 4 to 12 years old, will be bridesmaids. And Tjessem Høiby's son Marius, 4, will be a page.
Prince Haakon has said he will help raise Marius, but will not adopt him. The little boy will not be given a title.
After the wedding, the crown prince and princess plan two tours around the country, one this fall and the other next spring, to give Norwegians a chance to know them better.
‘What Have Other People Got to Say?’
So what would Queen Victoria say? Despite her prudish reputation, the queen, who reigned from 1837-1901, could be surprisingly unstuffy.
Having been very content in her own marriage, the queen wanted her children and grandchildren to make happy, rather than grand, matches.
When the queen's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, became engaged to a Battenberg prince, haughtier royals were quick to point out flaws in the pedigree of the groom, who had some commoner blood in his background.
Victoria rounded on them, accusing them of both impertinence and snobbery, according to several biographies. Anyone who ventured to look too closely into the past of any royal line, she said, was bound to unearth some "black spots."
And in any event, she said, quoting one of her ministers, "If the Queen of England thinks a person good enough for her daughter, what have other people got to say?"